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Global Initiative Unveils Six-Year Plan to Eradicate Polio

  • Joe DeCapua

Rotary Polio Vaccination Day in Kaduna, Nigeria (Rotary International)

Rotary Polio Vaccination Day in Kaduna, Nigeria (Rotary International)

A new campaign has been announced to eradicate polio. The six-year plan costing $5.5 billion was unveiled Thursday at the Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi.

The Global Polio Initiative says the plan is the first that aims to eradicate all types of polio – the wild poliovirus and vaccine derived cases. Health officials say on rare occasions, the live, but weakened poliovirus in the oral vaccine may genetically alter in the immunized person’s gut triggering the disease.

If all the funding comes through, more than one billion children could be vaccinated. UNICEF, the U.N. children’s fund, describes ending polio as a historic feat for humanity.

“This is really the beginning of the end. We’re tantalizingly close to eradicating polio and really making history. So it’s an extraordinary opportunity,” said UNICEF spokesperson Sarah Crowe.

"Never before have there been fewer cases in fewer places,” she said.

There were 223 cases reported last year and just 19 so far this year.

“We must seize this opportunity because if we don’t make history – and we last made history, the grand we, was smallpox. The last time a disease was eradicated,” she said.

That was 1979. But the world was close to polio eradication before. It was nearly achieved in 2005, but immunization faltered in some countries, like Nigeria. So what’s different now?

Crowed said, “Because we’ve never been as close. We’re down now to three endemic countries in the world – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. And in those cases there are really just a handful of children who have been affected by polio this year. So we’ve never seen that kind of a drop-off in history.”

At the Global Vaccine Summit, leaders and philanthropists have pledged nearly three-quarters of the funding. $1.5 billion in pledges is still needed.

The polio eradication plan is seen as part of an overall effort to provide vaccines to children around the world.